LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal Tuesday night weighed in on the controversy surrounding Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, weeks after the NBA executive expressed support for pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong, setting off a political firestorm.
Speaking on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” outside Staples Center ahead of the Lakers hometown season-opening clash with the Clippers, Shaq said Morey was simply exercising his rights as an American.
“One of our best values here in America is free speech,” Shaq said. “We’re allowed to say what we want to say, and we’re allowed to speak up about injustices, and that’s just how it goes. And if people don’t understand that, that’s something that they have to deal with.”
On Oct. 4, Morey sent out a tweet expressing support for anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong. It came while several NBA teams, including the Lakers, were in China to play preseason games.
As a result, several Chinese companies suspended their ties with the NBA and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said it would not broadcast any of the preseason games in China.
The Chinese government also barred players, along with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, from speaking to the media while they were in China. When the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets took the floor for a preseason game in Shanghai on Oct. 10, neither the U.S. nor the Chinese national anthems were played.
The NBA, which has hundreds of millions of Chinese fans watching its games every season, is likely to experience major financial blowback from the fallout.
There were several pro-Hong Kong protesters outside Staples prior to Tuesday’s game. A GoFundMe effort to raise money to hand out thousands of “Stand with Hong Kong” t-shirts Tuesday raised nearly $43,000 in just two days.
“Daryl Morey was right, whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say, ‘that’s not right,’” Shaq went on. “And that’s what he did. But again, you know, when it comes to business, you have to tiptoe around things.”
However, Shaq’s cohost, Charles Barkley, was critical of Morey’s actions, specifically citing the Rockets’ relationship with their former center Yao Ming, who is currently the president of the Chinese Basketball Association.
“The Houston Rockets and their affiliation with Yao Ming, they’re the most popular team in China,” Barkley said. “So that was the first thing he (Morey) should have thought about: ‘I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m speaking for the entire Rockets organization.’ And like I say, because of Yao Ming, the Rockets are by far and away the most popular team in China. You can’t come to my country, make money and insult me.”
Barkley also came to superstar LeBron James’ defense. After returning from China, LeBron told reporters last week that Morey was both “not educated” and “misinformed” when he sent out the tweet.
“I hear all these idiots and fools and jackasses on television and radio talking bad about LeBron, ‘he sold out for the money,’” Barkley said. “First of all, there’s nothing wrong with him protecting his money…Secondly, he was protecting the NBA’s money, and he was protecting Nike’s money. Why is that such a bad thing? LeBron had nothing to do with this tweet…Why should he sacrifice?”